We Christians give a lot of time in our worship services to singing songs, don’t we? How many songs does your church sing each week? At Faith Church we typically sing four songs, which are a mixture of traditional hymns and modern praise songs. What are we doing when we sing those songs?
It might seem like a question with an obvious answer, we’re singing praise to God. Yes, of course we are. But I would like to suggest that when we sing, we’re often doing something else very important, something that we really might not want to be doing, something we might not even realize we’re doing. I would like to suggest that our praises to God just might be making God sad. Why? Keep reading.
This week we have been studying Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, the central passage of the entire book. The Teacher has been talking about the meaning of life, and what he places in the center of his book is unique in that it seems like a departure from his main theme about the meaning of life. What is he talking about at the center of the book? Church worship services.
I would argue that he is saying that our attitude to toward gathered worship is central to how we find meaning in life, and as we continue this working our way through this passage, we’ll observe how he comes to that conclusion. We have see in the first post how he teaches about ritual in worship, and in the second post how he teaches about prayer. Now he shifts to the next worship topic.
Take a look at what the Teacher tells us in verses 4-5. Did you see the topic? Vows. Essentially, in verse 4, the Teacher says, “Fulfill your vows,” but then in Verse 5 it’s like he thinks about it a second, and says, “You know what, you’re better off not making vows at all! So much better to not make a vow, then to open your mouth, make a vow, and not keep it!”
What are vows? The commentator says, “When taking a vow, worshipers committed themselves to undertake some kind of action, often a sacrifice, if God would answer a specific request…or simply to curry God’s favor.” (Longman)
Have you done that? “Lord, if you just help me out this time, I swear to you I will come to church more often.”
Vows take many forms. They could be a pledge of time, talent or treasure. Could be a commitment to serve in a ministry. Could be a promise to another person, to your family, to God, like marriage vows, or your church membership vows. Once you make the vow, that person or people are all counting on you. This happens a lot in church. For example, my church has our annual congregational meeting in November, and for our church that’s a place where we make vows. First of all, we elect leaders, and second, we vote to approve a budget. You may not have thought of that as a vow, but it is. It is an agreement of a church family, together in unity, saying that we are going to support the budget throughout the next calendar year. What we mean by “support the budget” is that we are going to be giving financial gifts to the church throughout that next year so that we can, together, fulfill our vow.
There are many other vows in a church family. You make a vow when you agree to serve on a committee or when you agree to serve in a ministry. Because of all these vows, the Teacher has a strong caution in verse 6. Look at the first phrase. I like how Dorsey translates it, “Do not let your mouth get you into trouble.”
How many of you have allowed your mouth to get you in trouble? In this case, the context is making vows in worship. You might think, but Joel we don’t really make vows in worship very much. I would suggest that we make vows every single week in worship. How so? Songs.
When we sing worship songs, consider how similar they are to making a vow. When you sing to God you are making commitments to him. What happens, then, when you sing a worship song, which has amazing lyrics, but you don’t actually mean them or follow through with them in your life the rest of the week? Are you breaking a vow?
Think back over the songs you sang in your worship services recently. If you can’t remember, contact the people at your church responsible for selecting the songs. Ask them for the list of songs. They might even have the lyrics. Then as you read the lyrics, look for the lines of the songs that are vows. Here are some phrases that are vows that my church family sang this past Sunday morning:
“All our hope is in you.” Is your hope completely in God? It sure sounds good, but do we mean it?
“All the glory to you God.” Does your life really give all the glory to God? Or are you giving glory to lesser things as well?
“At the cross, I surrender my life.” What does that even look like? How does a person surrender their life to Jesus? Seriously. It is crucial that we Christians think about the lyrics of the songs we sing, because they are a vow that we take with our mouth.
Why is this so important? Because when we sing words, for example, such as, “I want to surrender all,” and then do nothing to change our lives toward the process of actual surrender, we are making a vow and then not keeping that vow. So we should ask ourselves, What does actual surrender look like? What do we do to make it clear to not only God, but also to the people in our lives that we are surrendering to Jesus?
Answer that question, and then consistently complete the actions that show you are surrendering your life to Jesus, and you will have made a vow and kept it.